SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

July 22, 2013

Avoid toxic red algae

OHIO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY    Ohio officials are monitoring the lake at Dillon State Park for a re-occurrence of red algae. The algae, which turn water blood red and contain a toxin similar to fire-ant venom, appeared at Dillon Lake last summer, shown here. “It’s a new issue. It’s literally something we hadn’t seen before,” EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said.


New toxin to avoid: red algae


Ohio officials are on the lookout for toxic algae that turn water blood-red and produce a poison similar to fire-ant venom.  The red algae first appeared in a cove in Dillon State Park’s lake last summer, more than a half-mile north of the park’s beach.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources officials are watching the 1,376-acre Muskingum County lake and other public waterways this summer to see whether the algae return.

They’re called Euglena sanguinea, and they might make the state re-evaluate its warning system for swimmers. Now, warnings are triggered when the more-common blue-green algae pose a health threat.

Mark Bruce, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said warnings were not posted at Dillon last summer because tests of beach water in July and August didn’t detect hazardous concentrations of a liver toxin produced by blue-green algae.

Those tests don’t detect the red algae’s toxin. Officials are reading up on the new algae and the threats they might pose, said Dina Pierce, an Ohio EPA spokeswoman.  “It’s a new issue. It’s literally something we hadn’t seen before,” Pierce said. “If it occurs again, we will work with our partner state agencies to get samples analyzed to understand it better and make decisions.”

The algae were first identified by researchers at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Center for Coastal Studies in 2004, after fish died at a North Carolina aquaculture farm.

“People with the state agricultural service were stumped by it,” said Paul Zimba, a microbiologist and the center’s director.   Zimba said his lab since has found Euglena sanguinea in water samples from Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi, and other parts of the world.   He said he thinks that the red algae are like blue-green algae in that they are common in most lakes but grow thick in warm, still water and feed on phosphorus from manure, sewage and fertilizers that rainstorms wash into streams.

  • Blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, produce liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

Certain cyanobacteria species also are red, said David Culver, an Ohio State University limnologist, which is a person who studies inland lakes. Ohio EPA drinking-water officials reported a red species of cyanobacteria called Planktothrix rubescens in Lima’s Williams reservoir in November.

Ohio EPA officials listed the Lima and Dillon red-algae blooms in a memo that stated that the city of Toledo spent $200,000 a month last year to remove Lake Erie toxins from its drinking water.

Blue-green algae warnings posted this summer at Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio and at East Fork State Park in Clermont County advise that swimming and wading are not recommended for senior citizens, young children and anyone with a compromised immune system.

  • In lab tests, the toxin produced by Euglena sanguinea killed fish, mice and rats. “It seems to be a neurotoxin,” Zimba said.  He said officials should post warnings for the red algae at beaches.

Officials with the Ohio EPA, Natural Resources and the Department of Health meet each year to evaluate the state’s harmful-algae strategy.

According to this year’s strategy, they are to look for any red blooms and send water samples to Zimba’s lab in Texas.

For the time being, the EPA has this advice: “If it doesn’t look right, don’t go in,” Pierce said.



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